The Post Smartphone Era

It is time to start looking beyond smartphone hardware. We are observing signs that the smartphone market is mature. Over 2 billion people have a smartphone and the market is moving to “replacement cycle innovation” rather than “adoption cycle innovation”. In adoption cycle innovation, we see a heavier emphasis on features designed to attract consumers for a first time purchase. Now that smartphones are in a replacement cycle for the most developed parts of the world, we will see more feature evolution than a burst of brand new things. In this regard, the smartphone hardware landscape will start to feel similar to the PC hardware landscape. In the post-mature PC market, it’s not a big deal when vendors launch PCs with new features as it used to be. The smartphone hardware landscape will now follow the same dynamics from here on out.

I want to make it clear when I say we are in the post-mobile era, I’m not saying there is some magical device that will replace the smartphone. In this vernacular, the post-mobile era is not like the post-PC era where the smartphone displaced the PC as the primary computer for the masses. There will be no single product that will sell 1.5-2b annually like the smartphone. And whatever is beyond the smartphone is five and maybe even ten years away from mass market adoption. What’s more, connecting the next billion humans and beyond remains a critical initiative, but it is one that will be much more difficult than connecting the previous two billion. In the vein of my post mobile theme, this will be done because of the previous innovations in hardware to bring down the cost of the device and of connectivity itself.

The smartphone and its now two billion and growing user base, has laid the most critical foundation for the future. It is time to move our focus from smartphone hardware, mobile operating systems and perhaps even the apps themselves and begin to focus more on what the hardware, operating systems, and apps are enabling. As I will start to articulate the post-mobile era more over the next year, the light I will shine is on the things being built on top of, around, and from the mobile foundation which has now been laid.

As my friend Benedict Evans of Andreessen Horowitz, is fond of saying, “Google and Apple have both won the mobile wars.” Apple has the most profitable minority of global consumers and Google has the rest of the 80% of the market. While the share of iOS users and Android users is relevant, to a point, what happens on top of these platforms is now the important story.

One example of this is Financial Tech or FinTech as we call it. Putting a computer with an internet connection into the pockets of two billion (and eventually five billion) humans, opens massive new doors to commerce. We are watching markets like China and India as we see into markets where more digital commerce happens on smartphones than on PCs. This reality will come to the US and European markets as well before too long. When the mobile device becomes a central hub of commerce, banking, lending, and a host of other financial services, it has the potential to reach more customers in a way they have never had before. My deepest conviction around mobile commerce is the smartphone in the pockets of five billion people will be responsible for the single greatest act of financial inclusion the world has ever seen.

Artificial intelligence is another buzzword gaining steam. It seems most major players in the tech world from Microsoft, Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, as well as major players in China like Baidu, are all working on artificial intelligence of some kind. This is another area that will be built on top of and, in some cases, from the mobile era. We will need powerful computing capabilities both locally and in the cloud to accomplish true AI presences for consumer use. We will need both deep device hardware security with end-to-end encryption to our cloud services. Artificial intelligence will spring up from the mobile center.

Similarly, the most interesting things around virtual reality will come from the mobile ecosystem rather than the PC ecosystem, despite how it looks today. Look more for smartphone chipsets, software platforms, apps, and other innovations around VR to go mainstream as more VR does not require a cable connected to the PC and is built around and off of the mobile ecosystem.

There are a range of other examples from drones, smart cars, smart homes and smart cities, smartwatches and wearable/embeddable technology and more which are yet to be invented or come to market which will serve as examples of consumer technologies blossoming out of and from the mobile ecosystem. The smartphone has laid the foundation in which the future will be built on and ultimately will eventually give birth to that which displaces it as well. As we embrace the post-mobile era, it is time to shift our attention from the smartphone hardware itself to all the new things the smartphone will enable as the most pervasive form of personal computing in the history of our industry.

Published by

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

72 thoughts on “The Post Smartphone Era”

  1. Wow that’s early. I’d peg the Post-PC area at when Mobile displaced PCs (a bit by replacing them, a lot by sidelining them)… nothing has displaced Mobile yet, and nothing seems about to.

    I’d go with “post-smartphone”, because the time when that smart thing in our pocket was mostly a phone is clearly over. The devices and uses are clearly evolving towards computer-ish stuff; and wearables use them as hubs/servers.
    And PCs themselves continue to become ever more mobile, with laptops morphing into tablets and Thunderbolt 3 offering the first sensible docking tech (rich, cross-vendor, probably cheap enough and OS-supported… in a couple of years) allowing a mobile device to double up as a desktop.

    Maybe the action will move to the smart home, IoT, wearables, smart cars at some points. That’s neither now nor guaranteed. The prospects are huge, but current direct sales are puny, and ancillary sales non-existent.

    But yeah, smartphones are mostly infrastructure at this point, and the value of infrastructure is not in the thing itself, but in what it enables. Also, looking at what happened to previous infrastructures (water/sewers, electricity, (rail)roads, POTS/mail, …) might help to understand issues and envision solutions. I can’t help but observe a lot of those are nationalized or heavily regulated/normalized. Maybe the millionth hack will lead to that for IT. Or the billionth.

    1. I did actually mean to change the title to post-smartphone last night then forgot. But I agree with you on the naming.

    2. The whole “post” discussion and what that means always seems to get sidelined by what the word “post” actually means. To some it means replace or displace, to others it means in addition to or more of. Sort of like postmodernism. To some it means simply the next phase of modernism. To others it means modernism’s demise. To others it means modernism plus something else. In all circumstances, though, what is more important is the content of the discussion, not whether everyone agrees with the definition of “post”.


      1. I agree with you but I also would like to advocate for clearer communication and economy of words, and business communication is notorious, perhaps fairly or unfairly, for muddling up terms.

        For example, ‘cannibalization’ used to have a precise meaning: Company X displacing its sales of its Model A by introducing Model B. Cannibals, they eat their own, pretty logical. Then, some pundit who probably wanted to sound sophisticated started to talk about Company X cannibalizing Company Y’s products, when the term ‘displacing’ is already out there. So now, cannibalization has become an imprecise term where you’ll have to say “cannibalize your own” just to convey its original meaning.

        Here’s another. Commoditize vs. commodify. The former clearly means ‘to turn into a commodity’. The latter to me sounds like ‘to convert into a commode’, something the designers over at Kohler or American Standard are good at.

        Yes, I’ll apologize now if I’m being picky. It’s a pet peeve.

        1. Welcome to the english language, where “fat chance” and “slim chance” mean the same thing.

          Ever look up the word ‘point’?

          But I understand your point. 😀

          1. Hah. Cleave and cleave. Skin and skin. Transparent and transparent. And so on. Then there’s shameful and shameless– opposite suffixes but identical meaning. Aargh!

  2. I was just reading a couple of articles posted by Thomas Cott, marketing director for Alvin Ailey Dance, that struck me similarly, but as it relates to the entertainment industry. This regarding TV:

    And this regarding video platforms that are displacing TV:

    To a large degree the TV itself is losing relevance in its traditional form. But more important than that, current quality of TV shows notwithstanding, the idea of a TV show vs a live performance as entertainment is becoming irrelevant. In a sense live performances are in a better position to take advantage of the new video platforms.

    There is something more going on here than simply what manner a performance is realized. We now have the capability to reach more people than ever regardless of our performance form. We don’t have to _compete_ with mobile devices, we can take advantage of them.


  3. I understand the transition from mass adoption to market saturation you’re calling attention to is happening and is important, however, calling it “post smartphone” or “post mobile” is, I think, a bad call. The fact that you had to start out explaining what you’re *not* trying to say with your provactive label should have been a hint right there that you chose poorly. Picking a label that has everyone starting to read your essay with their arguments against what they think you’re going to say already picked out is not the best rhetorical stance to take.

    Automobiles hit market saturation in North America sometime between 1920 and 1950, but we don’t call the 1950’s or 1960’s the “post automotive” era or the “post car” era. Only now, 70 or so years later, as North Americans increasingly see cars as expensive (and in an urban setting, optional) tools rather than symbols of status, freedom, or sexual prowess, can one even dream of saying that we are entering a post automotive era.

    1. Sure, but I’m not going to argue nomenclature. Naming the post, going beyond smartphones, or some more general idea is too straightforward.

      Insider our circles it is actually being used quite a bit so I figured I’d get it out there. Dont’ let the title miss the fundamental point that hardware is done, less interesting, more feature evolution. Pay attention to what springs up from the mobile foundation.

      1. “Insider our circles it is actually being used quite a bit so I figured I’d get it out there.”

        That explains it.

  4. I will sound like an elitist fretting about 5 billion people getting access to the world financial market. But that could easily be 5 billion people who do not fully appreciate the risks of investing, or 5 billion people who are easy prey to scammers and swindlers, some of whom will be their own governments. Prepare for a world of unprecedented financial volatility. That mattress is looking more inviting each day.

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